Guest Blog: Puns

PunRisesPollack, John.  The Pun Also Rises. New York: Gotham Books, 2011

This is the first of two parts on humor.  While some deride puns as the lowest form of humor, we here in Texas celebrate them with a special contest, the O. Henry Pun Off.  As you can see by the information below, I am a little late publishing this blog as this event happened earlier this month.  

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) moved to Texas in 1882 worked at a little of this and a little of that. While his writing career didn’t take off until after he left our state, we have a tidy little museum in downtown Austin dedicated to his years in Austin. The annual O. Henry Pun Off is hosted on the grounds of this museum.  This year was their 40th Anniversary, so people have been making “punny” there for a long time.  We didn’t have a chance to go this year, so my husband, Jim, has contributed his thoughts on this form of humor.

Well, the O. Henry Pun Off is happening on May 13, 2017.  While I have never gone to one, I have read books and heard about it.  It is hard to miss in season since I live close to Austin, Texas, where it is held.  I have (and my entire family for that matter) be punsters.  Sometimes we will engage in puns for hours, switching topics from time to time.  My father once told me a story of about my grandfather, who was also a punster.  Apparently, his coworkers couldn’t take any more of the puns and took him and locked him in a storage room and said that he couldn’t come out until he told another pun.  To which, he said, “Oh pun the door” and was let out forthwith.

I have heard it said that puns are the lowest form of humor…unless you where the one who came up with it.  There is, I must say, something pleasing about hearing the groans of your friends and acquaintances when you let go an unexpected pun.  This disease is hereditary.  I like to pun as does my wife, Robin.  We have two wonderful daughters and they also are formidable punners.  There is, however, a distinct difference between the way my daughters pun.  My youngest daughter, Sarah likes to join in with the rest of us when we start to pun.  My oldest daughter Alexis fains disdain at these antics, but will let one go randomly when no one is expecting it.  She is the seldom, but devastating punner.

I am not sure what the attraction of puns is.  Somehow, there is satisfaction is using incorrect words that sound the same or similar to the correct word.  Part of the attraction, of course, is seeing if the recipient/target of the pun gets it.  If so, he/she usually groans.  If they don’t get it, you can humiliate the victim by explaining it.  A well-executed pun is a no-lose proposition for the giver.  If, however, a pun is botched, the tables turn and the attempted giver of the pun is subject to intense ridicule, as well they should.

So, pun “oily” and often.  Let all your former friends know just how smart and witty you are.  But, do so at your own risk.

Extra credit:  Read “The Pun Also Rises” by John Pollack

A Chair for My Mother

A_Chair_MomWilliams, Vera B. A Chair for My Mother. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1982.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am home with my family today.  I feel surrounded by love.  I am so lucky.  When I was thinking about a book to share for this day, I remembered this one.  It conjured memories of moms and daughters and families.  How much family and community are important in one’s life.

In this book community and family came together to help Rosa and her mother and her grandmother after a fire destroys all their possessions.  Friends, family and neighbors all pitch in to help furnish a new place for Rosa, her mom and grandma. They brought a table, chairs, beds and other necessities.  What they lack is a nice, big, comfy chair to relax in at the end of the day.

Rosa and her family get a huge jar. They begin to save their change for the new chair.  Mom is a waitress at the Blue Tile Diner, half her tips go into the jar.  Rosa works at the diner too; half her earnings go into the jar.  Grandma adds coins to the jar when she can.  They add coins every day until not one more will fit!  The coins are counted and rolled.  Rosa and her mom and grandma take the coins to the bank.

You will have to read this book to find out what chair they bought.  Rosa’s grandma thought shopping for chairs was a bit like the “Three Bears’.  They were trying to find just the right one.

Read this book with a young person you know.  Snuggle up in your big comfy chair and talk about the book.  Do you have a savings jar that you throw your change into at the end of the day?  Why are you saving?  Are you saving up to buy something special for your family or someone you know?

Armada

Cline, Ernest.  Armada. New York: Broadway Books, 2015.

I have lived near Austin for many years and have never attended the Texas Book Festival.  Every year, I think this is the year I will go.  Well 2017 was the lucky one! Last fall we drove down to Austin (shudder!), found the right parking garage near the Texas Capitol and attended the Texas Book Festival.  It was a dreary, misty day.  What the day lacked in ambiance, it made up with books and authors!  I bought some good ones!  I missed Ernest Cline’s presentation or panel at the festival, but I did manage to snap up this signed copy.

I have struggled to write this blog.  I am not a video game player so it has been difficult to focus on the points others might like to know about Armada. On the way home from the gym, I heard a story on the World Video Game Hall of Fame on the radio. I didn’t know there was one. Today they were announcing their 2017 video game inductees.  It was fate!  I had to complete this brief review on a book about a video game for you today.  I learned that these games are chosen on 4 criteria: Icon Status, Longevity, Geographical Reach, and Influence.  After reading this book, I wonder if Armada, the fictional video game of the book would meet these criteria?

As the book opens, we meet Zach Lightman, high school student, video store clerk, and an avid video game player.  When he is not in school or being tormented by the class bully, he is at the video story playing the online, multiplayer, flight simulator game Armada. He happens to be one of the best players in the world.  As he gazes out his classroom window, he sees a spaceship straight out of his video game zip across the horizon. Did he see it? Is he going crazy?  No one else seems to notice.

He isn’t crazy and that spaceship is real.  He isn’t playing a game, but has been training for the life-and-death alien attack some authorities fear is inevitable.  Read this book to find out how Earth got embroiled in this conflict.  Do they defeat the alien or are they defeated?

Cline has many nods to modern video game developers, movie makers, and other science fiction movies and books.  Most of that escaped my notice!  As I was reading, I thought of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. 

I think this would be an enjoyable read for a youthful student who lives for video games.

Ernest Cline

I just read his autobiography from his website.  It is one of the funniest I have read of late.  I like a guy who doesn’t take himself, too seriously.  Like many of the rest of us, he has been warped by his childhood, but managed to pull himself up and grow from a boy to an author.  Both his books Ready Player One and Armada have been optioned for movies. I liked both books.  They might make your average or above average video game player pick up a book and read.

About Ernest Cline

Reading Report from Northern, Central Texas: April 2017

This final day of April has been lovely here in my part of central Texas!  It started out gloomy and cool and has ended sunny and mild.  From my new blogging spot, I can see our backyard bathed in the late evening sunshine.  It is a lovely evening.

Can you believe that a full quarter of 2017 has sped by?  I can’t imagine where the time has gone.  I would have liked to have spent more time reading.

Jim

This book’s title looks interesting.  I need to get a copy for myself.  I will get him to write a guest post, when he finishes it.

  • Krauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told So Far: Why Are We Here? New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017.

Sarah

Sarah had a little extra time for reading this month.  Here is a partial list for her and some of the comments she posted on Facebook about these books.

  • Wiles, Deborah. Countdown. New York: Scholastic, 2010.

So, my car is in the shop this week so no dance for me so I’ve been doing some extra reading. I started with this book, Countdown, and what a great read! It’s a historical fiction documentary type book that centers around the life of an 11-year old girl during the Cuban missile crisis.

“There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world… how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.”

  • Lorenzi, Natalie Dias. Flying the Dragon. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012

Yesterday’s book, Flying the Dragon, was a fun short read. The story focuses on two children Skye Tsuki and Hiroshi Tsuki.

Skye lives near Washington DC. Her mother is an American and her father is Japanese. She has never really explored or taken an interest in her Japanese heritage until she is forced to when her cousin Hiroshi’s family and her Grandfather move from Japan into the neighborhood.

Hiroshi loves living in Japan, he especially loves spending time with his grandfather who is a master kite maker and the rokkaku champion of their village. Hiroshi must now move to America with is family and encounters many challenges at school and at home.

  • Dauvillier, Loïc. Illustrated by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo. Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York: First Second, 2012.

Hidden is a short book about a little girl who wakes up one night to find that her grandmother is recovering from a nightmare. When the little girl inquires about her grandmother’s dream she is told the story of her grandmother growing up as a little Jewish girl in France during WW2.

Alexis

As always, our most prolific reader.  Here are some of the books she read this month.

  • Griffith, Clay and Susan Griffith. The Shadow Revolution. New York: Del Rey, 2015.
  • Martin, Nancy. Dead Girls Don’t Wear Diamonds. New York: Signet, 2003.
  • Haines, Carolyn. Greedy Bones. New York: Minotaur, 2010.
  • Alt, Madelyn. No Rest for the Wiccan. New York: Berkley, 2008
  • Alt, Madelyn. Where There’s a Witch. New York: Berkley, 2009
  • Alt, Madelyn. A Witch in Time. New York: Berkley, 2011
  • Page, Katherine Hall. The Body in the Vestibule. New York: Avon, 1997.
  • Haydon, Elizabeth. Rhapsody. New York: Tor, 1999

Robin

This month I finally finished the first book of The New Sun by Gene Wolfe.  Considered a classic of science fiction, I am glad to have persevered through it.  At one point in my life, I might have liked this book, but I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought.  It puts me in mind of  Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, also considered a classic, and I feel the same way about both books.  They are dark and dystopian.

  • Wiles, Deborah. New York: Scholastic, 2010.
  • MacAvoy, R.A. The Book of Kells. New York: Open Road, 1985.
  • Chesterton, G.K. The Complete Father Brown Stories. Herefordshire, England: Wordsworth Classics, 1972.
  • Cline, Ernest. New York: Broadway, 2015
  • Wolfe, Gene. Book of the New Sun (The Shadow of the Torturer and The Claw of the Conciliator). London: Orion, 1980, 1981.

Ten Black Dots

Cover ofCrews, Donald. Ten Black Dots. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1968 & 1986.

Reading a variety of books to a child is important.  Counting books are important for young children, because they introduce the language of numbers and mathematics.  Also they can be very fun.  This is a terrific counting book.  The pictures are simple, creative, and instructive.

What can you do with 10 black dots?  A book is what Donald Crews could do!  Here is my take on Ten Black Dots.  After reading this book, perhaps you and a young person could draw your own version of this book.

What can you do with one black dot?
Donald made a sun and moon.
I would make a star in June.

What would you do with two black dots?
Donald made keys and the eyes of a fox.
I might draw two round rocks.

Donald used three black dots
To make a snowman’s face.
I would make a tricycle for a race!

For you and me, Donald drew four black seeds!
With four black dots, I’d make tires on a car.
That car would carry me far, far, far.

Five portholes wink from a ship he drew.
Five is a terrific number.  With five black dots, I might draw
The five Black-eyed Susans I recently saw.

Donald drew six marbles, half old, half new.
I like marbles.
I’d draw them too!

Seven stones raked from a garden is what Donald drew.
My garden has too many stones to count.
I would draw screws on a telescope mount.

Donald made eight dots for the wheels of a train.
I might draw four pair of spider eyes,
Gleaming under the star lit skies.

The heads of nine toy soldiers was drawn for us.
What would I draw?
Nine scoops of chocolate ice cream before they thaw.

Ten balloons stuck in a tree, then loosed were illustrated.
Two ladybugs upon a beach,
I’d draw them with 5 dots each.

Make your own pictures and count every dot
Or read this book and find out what Donald thought.

A Is for “All Aboard!” An Alphabet Book for Autism Awareness Month

  • Kavan, Stefan and Barbara. Illustrated by Michaelin Otis. Trainman: Gaining Acceptance…and Friends…through Special Interests.  Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing, 2011.
  • Kluth, Paula and Victoria Kluth. Illustrated by Brad Littlejohn. A Is for “All Aboard!” Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 2010.

I wanted to share these two books in recognition of Autism Awareness month.  About 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)¹. Autism is diagnosed on a triad of issues: Social Skills, Communication, and Unusual Interest and Behaviors². These two books give perspective on the unusual interest and behaviors legs of this disorders.  Sometimes these unusual interests can keep children with autism apart from other children, who don’t share them.

Trainman is Stefan’s story.  He is a boy with autism. His interests are maps, roads, and trains!  His mom and his teacher both worry about him.  He sits alone at lunch, partly because the cafeteria is too noisy and partly because his interests aren’t shared by the other children. One of the goals on his individualized education plan (IEP) is self-advocacy.  To address this goal, his mother suggests that he might like to make a presentation to his teacher and classmates about his autism and his special interests.  He agrees.  Stefan is good at PowerPoint. Armed with information from his mother, he creates a presentation for his class.  He shows this to all his peers, his teacher, and his principal.  This presentation helps them understand that Stefan is much like them.  They are impressed with his knowledge of trains.  This disclosure helps Stefan with his classmates, teacher, and even the principal (who Stefan only sees when he is in trouble). The children in his class have much more patience, when he talks about trains or roads.  Stefan, also tries to remember to ask them about their special interests.

Stefan and his mom wrote this book for other students with autism.  It is her hope that this book will encourage classroom discussions around relationships.  All children, including those with autism, need acceptance and understanding from peers.  They all need friends.

Kari Dunn Buron, a noted autism education specialist, has contributed ideas for using this book as a teaching tool. She also contributed information on special interests and students with ASD in the back of the book.

The second book I offer is a delightful alphabet book written by Paula Kluth and her sister, Victoria Kluth.  Paula is also a noted specialist on autism, literacy, and inclusive education.  When she was researching for her book on literacy and autism, she discovered that there were no train ABC books. Paula drafted her sister, Victoria, to help her write this alphabet. From “A Is for All Aboard” to “Z Is for Zephyr,” all the letters have a special significance to train lovers including these two authors.  Their father worked on the railroad and they spent some quality time in the railyard.

When I was reading this book, I thought about my own Grandpa worked on the railroad.  I wonder how he would have liked this book.  He never talked much about his work and I was too young to collect his thoughts.

Paula and Victoria created an alphabet book for any train enthusiast. Like Trainman, this book can also be used as a teaching tool.  Paula has included a section on using alphabet books to teach.

Here are some great autism resources.

¹CDC Autism Spectrum Disorder: Statistics and Data – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
²CDC Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs and Symptoms – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

With a Good Book – Happy Anniversary!

Frontpiece of Wildflowers of Texas BookAjilvsgi, Geyata. Wildflowers of Texas.  Bryan, TX: Shearer Publishing, 1984.

This blog, “With a Good Book” is a year old.  Happy Birthday!   I started this blog writing about the books I bought for my niece’s baby shower.  Her son, Elijah is nearly one.  I don’t know about you, but I have been vastly entertained remembering books I have shared with my family over the years. I reveled in the new books I have discovered this year. My random ramblings have delighted me!

Today, I want to reflect on home and family.  My family has been supportive and helpful throughout this year.  They encouraged me to start writing and sharing.  I value their loving support.  How could I continue without it?  We have lively discussions over the dinner table about our current reads.  We also reminisce about things we read in the past and how much they made us think or feel. As you may have guessed, we all love to read.

I was at home today and I took a walk in our back forty.  It was full of wildflowers.  TheDedication to Alexis' Dad for his birthday. sight that greeted me was a field of yellow spotted with purple.  I had to pull out my favorite wildflower reference, Wildflowers of Texas to identify these new flowers.  We have had this book so long that the dust cover is gone.  I took this picture of the inside front cover to show when we acquired it. Alexis and I bought for Jim for his birthday in 1985.  She was a very precocious two.  This book sees regular use every spring and summer.  The wildflowers in our yard, in our neighborhood, and around our state have always intrigued us.  We love walking in our yard and seeing how the flower change during the seasons.

Here’s some photos from this afternoon’s walk.  Here is the field of yellow dotted with purple near the large oak tree.  There are so many types of yellow flowers, it is hard to say what these sunny, yellow flowers are.  I think they are Sleepy-Daisies.  They bloom in the back forty from April through the first good freeze.

field of small yellow flowers
Back Forty in Bloom

The new purple flowers are called American Germander.  They have blossomed since the last good rain. They join the other blue and purple flowers in the yard: bluebonnets, dotted blue-eyed grass, and prairie verbena.

Sleepy Daisies and American Germander
American Germander and Sleepy Daisies

The dewberries bloomed and the blooms have given way to berries.  Our berries get too much sun so they are small.  I did pick a couple small ripe ones and they popped with sweet flavor in my mouth. If you want the big, fat, ripe ones, you must dig into the thicket.  I don’t want to discover a snake (we’ve seen rattlesnakes around here)! What are dewberries you ask?  They are a variety of blackberry.

Ripening Dewberries
Ripening Dewberries

I walked down by our rill to look at the barrel cacti.  Unfortunately, they had finished blooming.  I walked down that way last week so I didn’t miss their bright, fuchsia flowers.  The prickly pear, on the other hand, are blooming in profusion!  Their bright yellow blooms attract all types of insects.  I rambled back to the house.  It was a wonderful afternoon.

Prickly Pear in Bloom
Prickly Pear in Bloom

As I enjoyed my ramble through the yard, I have spent this year rambling through some very good books. Thanks to all of you who have followed my blog over this year.  It has been my pleasure to share my love of books and other random ramblings with you.

Here’s one of my favorite quote on books from Groucho Marx.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.
Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

Go and share a good book with your best friend!